Shiragiku – the lute with a tragic love story


      Have you ever heard of these names of places: Myo-on-dori and Biwajima? Myo-on-dori is in Mizuho-ku in Nagoya, and the name of Biwajima is seen in Nishi-ku in Nagoya, and in Kiyosu, a suburb located north Nagoya. These two places are more than 10 km away from each other, but they’re connected by a musical instrument and a tragic love story.

     There was a man named Moronaga Fujiwara, Chancellor of the realm in Heian-era more than 800 years ago, and he fell from the power and was driven into exile by a coup. He came to a village named Idota, which is in the south of Mizuho-ku, and lived there, lamenting his misfortune and playing the lute. He was a great lute player, and the name of the place “Myo-on-dori” derives from his lute’s beautiful sound. Myo-on means exquisite music and dori(=tori) means street. shiragiku

     Who took care of Moronaga was a daughter of the head of the village. They fell in love with each other. But their love didn’t last. He was discharged a year and a half later the coup and left for the capitol in Kyoto behind her. He gave her his lute as a remembrance of him. But she couldn’t bear the breakup and chased him with the lute.

     She, however, noticed that she couldn’t stay with him forever in the capitol and despaired around Biwajima, and drowned herself in The Shonai River. The name of Biwajima derives from the lute. Lute is called biwa in Japanese.

     According to one estimate that the lute was housed in Seion Temple in Biwajima. Interestingly, Seion means beautiful sound. But another theory holds that Moronaga dedicated the lute to Atsuta Shrine. Anyway, it went around and around, and Yoshikatsu Tokugawa, the ruler in Nagoya area in 19th Century, hold it, and then he made Emperor Komei a present of the lute in 1863. But after that it hadn’t been located for many years.

     But it was found among treasures in Museum of the Imperial Collection in Tokyo at the end of last month. And now you can see it at the exhibition of Treasures of the Owari Tokugawa Family – Including Works “Returning Home” at Tokugawa Art Museum. Actually, the lute has a name: Shiragiku, which means white chrysanthemum. The name of the place Shiragiku also still remains in Biwajima. Why don’t you go to the museum to see the lute with a tragic love story and visit those connected places this fall?

*The photo from The Chunichi


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